Addiction is often viewed as a problem for teens and young adults, but substance abuse issues can strike at any age. In fact, recent studies suggest that adults over age 40 are suffering from addiction at higher rates than ever before.

Development of Addiction in Older Adults
Substance abuse in older adults can take two forms:

● Untreated addiction: An older adult may have been struggling with substance abuse issues for years, but failed to receive treatment due to the stigma surrounding addiction.
● Delayed onset: An older adult may develop a problem with drug or alcohol abuse after suffering a trauma such as the loss of a spouse, a prolonged period of unemployment, financial problems or a decline in physical health that makes it difficult to engage in hobbies or special interests.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among older adults. Drinking can be problematic for people over 40 because of the negative effect alcohol can have when mixed with prescription medications used to control chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or liver problems. IN addition, the aging process naturally lowers one’s tolerance for alcohol. This creates higher levels of impairment with fewer drinks, increasing the risk of dangerous falls or motor vehicle accidents.

Prescription drug abuse among older adults often begins with a legitimately prescribed opioid medication following a surgical procedure. Opioids such as OxyContin (oxycodone), Percocet (oxycodone combined with acetaminophen) and Vicodin (hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen) are very effective at controlling pain, but have a high potential for dependence if used incorrectly.

Seeking Treatment
Both alcohol and opioid abuse can lead to changes in mood and behavior that may be mistaken for age-related cognitive decline. However, an older adult who receives medically assisted detox followed by counseling typically reports dramatic improvements in mood, physical health and energy.

Age-specific treatment is often the best option for those over 40, since each age group has its own set of recovery challenges. Treatment that addresses issues like handling work-related stress, maintaining strong family relationships or working through grief helps to provide a solid foundation for recovery. Group therapy with other older adults may also reduce feelings of isolation by demonstrating that addiction can affect anyone at any time.

Outpatient treatment options from Guardian IOP allow older adults to address their chemical dependency without the logistical challenges associated with seeking residential treatment. To learn more, speak with a Guardian addiction professional at 855.517.1871 or contact us online.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.